As September nears a close, most 3yo only races have evolved into 3yo and up races, but a few of them stick around til the later part of the year. Last year, Bayern made his final start before winning the Breeders Cup Classic in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. This year, Frosted will try to do the same, but will need to face off against 9 other rivals, including Upstart and Mr. Z. As for the fillies, the Grade 1 Cotillion hosts a field of top notch horses, including champion Take Charge Brandi, Black Eyed Susan winner Keen Pauline, Alabama winner Embellish the Lace, and Kentucky Oaks 3rd place finisher I’m A Chatterbox. Both races are very competitive, helping Parx put on a good card this Saturday.
The Pennsylvania Derby always draw a good crowd. For some odd reason, this race is still a Grade 2, although that should change after this year.
Drawing the rail is War Story, runner up in the Risen Star and 3rd in the West Virginia Derby last time out. This horse for Loooch Racing has been knocking at the door as of late. He should appreciate the 1 1/8 mi distance here. He was running well in the West Virginia Derby, albeit not the best pace to run with. He has been caught with a lot of slow early paces as of late, which does not help his running style. With Mr. Z and Frosted in this field, the pace should be a lot faster and will help War Story close a lot better than he has. A must use in this race.
To his outside is newcomer Island Town. He comes out of a win here at Parx in the Smarty Jones. He had a 5th in a mess of an Indiana Derby. But neither of those races are why he is live in this field. At Churchill Downs in June, Island Town won the Matt Winn in impressive fashion. Brian Hernandez Jr was aboard for his last start and will be aboard here. His wire-to-wire winning style is suited for the speed favoring Parx track and is a definite threat here.
Next up is the veteran 3yo Frosted. Well tested this year, Frosted has been there right behind American Pharoah. Now, getting away from American Pharoah, Frosted has a chance at another Graded Stakes race. Joel Rosario is back aboard after being injured for the Travers. Frosted should sit right off the pace unlike what he did in the Travers with Lezcano. While he is the class in this field, he hasn’t shown the ability to pass horses, with his last win coming in a week Wood Memorial. Just don’t think today is the day that he steps up.
Mike Smith gets into this field aboard Iron Fist for Jerry Hollendorfer. After a 4th place finish in the West Virginia Derby, Hollendorfer thinks he can step this horse up in class. He got off slowly last time out which severely hurt his winning chances, if he gets off smooth, he will have a great shot at the lead. But beyond that, hard to say that he is ready for this class. But one year ago, he did finish above American Pharoah in that maiden special weight at Del Mar. Upset chance, maybe. But more like a bottom of the exotics pick.
Coming out of a win in the West Virginia Derby, Madefromlucky has been very impressive this year. On top of his win last time out, he has a win in the Peter Pan. Madefromlucky loves having a slow pace early but he probably won’t get one here. He’s a great 3yo, but this race won’t favor him. Pass.
Bob Baffert sends one of his best 3yos to win the Pennsylvania Derby, and not American Pharoah. Gimme Da Lute is a winner of four straight, the Affirmed, Los Alamitos Derby, Real Good Deal, and El Cajon, basically dominating the Southern California circuit. But who has he faced? Even though he achieved high Beyers in the Los Alamitos Derby and the Real Good Deal Stakes, he was tiring late at Los Alamitos (although the course could be a factor in that) and he dominated the Real Good Deal which was a very weak field. This is his first time against the top 3yos. But even with that in mind, he is a very good 3yo and Bob Baffert knows how to get to the winners circle here at Parx, having gotten there last year with Bayern. Must use.
After an allowance win over Tiz Shea D and Smart Transition, Todd Pletcher sent Tommy Macho to the Dwyer, for a 3rd place finish, before heading to the West Virginia Derby. Probably not a solid selection here, but he does get Castellano back which is a plus. He has a chance to upset, but very slim. I’d probably toss him.
Nick Zito sends out Battle Midway to try and upset this field. This one time winner has no shot in this race. Toss.
Coming out of the Travers, Upstart is still trying for his first Graded Stakes win. While a lot of people found talent in him, I can’t see any. I completely discount any performance at Gulfstream Park this Spring. The track was dreadfully slow and made it almost impossible for a horse to make any ground up. Gulfstream Park has been known as a highway for the past few years, but not this year. Can’t use Upstart until he shows me that he has talent and belongs.
The last horse in this field is Mr. Z. Scratch last race out (he never should’ve gone… Super Derby would’ve been a better spot) and look at his Ohio Derby effort. Over this year, the tracks where form has translated best have been Tampa Bay Downs, Woodbine, and ThistleDown. The Ohio Derby was a very impressive wire-to-wire win against a very tough field. I look for him to be the pace of this race. He won’t need a lone lead to win here. I give him a big look here.
My Selections for the Pennsylvania Derby:
1: Gimme Da Lute
2: Island Town
4: War Story
As for the other big race on Saturday, the Cotillion draws a great field. A very strong field of 12 enters the Grade 1 million dollar event, hoping to give some clarity to this 3yo filly division that has yet to have a clear winner. But unlike the division, I think this race has 3 clear choices, Peace and War, Embellish the Lace, and Take Charge Brandi.
First, Take Charge Brandi, last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, has been on the bench much of this year. Throw out her last race and you are looking at a winning machine. While I think she has taken a step back from her form late last year, she need her last race and will improve here. A must use.
The Alabama winner Embellish the Lace took charge and won wire-to-wire last time out in an upset. I expect her to perform a lot better here, on a Parx track that is very speed biased. I give her a major plus here and is a must use in all of your tickets for the Cotillion.
But neither of these horses are my top pick. Peace and War has shown a lot of ability at Delaware Park. Stepping out of that track and into a Grade 1 at Parx is a bit of a step back. The Alcibiades winner should take a liking to this race and the faster pace. Qatar Racing and H. Graham Motion know what to do with this daughter of War Front and I think this spot is perfect for her. My top choice.
Parx is a great place for racing in the fall and Saturday is no exception. Could this year’s edition of the Pennsylvania Derby result in another Breeders Cup Classic winner? Will the Graded Stakes committee finally give the Pennsylvania Derby the Grade 1 status it deserves? All that I know for sure is that Saturday will be a great day of racing. Enjoy the races!